Chill, cover, cook well

KEEP FOOD COLD

  • Put the lunch box in the refrigerator until it is time to leave the house.
  • Pack lunch box food with a frozen ice brick and store these in an insulated lunch bag to keep it cold until meal time.

Hints for cool lunches:

  • Make sandwiches the night before and freeze (not suitable for salads or mayonnaise).
  • Suitable foods for freezing include: cheddar cheese or cream cheese, sliced meat, sliced chicken, fish, peanut butter.
  • Spread bread with a thin layer of margarine to help stop the bread from becoming soggy.
  • If making lunches in the morning, use frozen bread or rolls (cut in half before freezing) to make sandwiches and rolls.
  • Keep lunch boxes, drinks (and anything else to be put in the lunch box) in the fridge while making the lunch. If everything in the lunch box is cold to start with, it will stay cold for longer when it leaves the house.

KEEP FOOD COVERED

  • Covering food keeps food fresh and keeps dirt and bacteria out.
  • Wrap food immediately after you have prepared it for the lunch box.
  • Always use a clean cover - never re-use plastic, paper or aluminium wrap.

Cooking meat to use in lunch boxes.

  • By cooking food yourself, you can make sure it is cooked thoroughly and safely.
  • You will know how the food was handled so you can use it confidently in the lunch box.
  • Plan ahead. Cook the food several hours ahead of time so it can be thoroughly cooled before it is packed in the lunch box. If the food is still warm when it is packed in the lunch box it will be at an unsafe temperature for several hours.
  • Cook meat thoroughly. The juices of cooked poultry must run clear (no pink). Ground meats such as mince or sausages must be cooked very well (no pink inside).
  • Chill cooked food quickly in the refrigerator. Food will cool more quickly if it is in small pieces or small amounts. Put food into small shallow containers and cool in the refrigerator.
  • Keep raw meats and their juices away from other foods. Never put ready-to-eat food such as cooked meats or salads on an unwashed plate or surface that was used for raw meat, poultry or fish.

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is illness that happens when we eat food that has been contaminated by foreign objects, chemicals or certain types of micro-organism (e.g. bacteria and viruses). It can be prevented by making sure that:

  • Hands and utensils are clean, and
  • Food is kept covered, chilled and is thoroughly cooked

Bacteria and food poisoning

  • Foods contaminated with bacteria and viruses may look, smell and taste normal.
  • Viruses are very small organisms that are very difficult to detect and identify as they do not survive for long outside the body. Viral food poisoning is often the result of poor hygiene practices, such as not washing hands before handling food.
  • Bacteria account for most cases of reported food poisoning. Bacteria can survive under conditions that would kill viruses.
  • Food poisoning affects over 11,000 people every day in Australia. Symptoms of bacterial food poisoning include vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, headaches, stomach pains and fever. Most cases can be prevented by handling food safely.
  • Children are more prone to food poisoning than adults because their immune systems are less developed. Also, they produce less acid in their stomachs than adults do, and this means an infection has more chance of becoming established if contaminated food is eaten. (Elderly people and those with chronic illness are also at higher risk.)

Many foods naturally contain bacteria.

  • Some bacteria are useful, and are used to make foods such as yoghurt, beer and cheese.
  • Many types of bacteria are harmless, but some bacteria cause illness if they get into our food. Those that cause illness are called food poisoning bacteria, or pathogens.
  • Some examples of food poisoning bacteria are Salmonella spp, Campylobacter spp, Staphylococcus spp, Clostridium perfringens and Listeria monocytogenes.

Where do food poisoning bacteria come from?

  • Food poisoning bacteria mainly live on raw meats, raw unwashed vegetables and our bodies.
  • Most food poisoning bacteria are found in our body wastes (faeces, saliva droplets from coughs and sneezes.)
  • It is normal for bacteria to be in these places - they only cause food poisoning when we eat them or eat food that has been contaminated by them.

How do the bacteria get into food?

  • We move bacteria from one place to another on our hands.
  • Bacteria get onto our hands when we use the toilet, change a baby's nappy or handle pets, cough or sneeze, touch skin or other surfaces that have bacteria on them, handle raw meat, chicken or other raw foods. If we touch food with unwashed hands, the bacteria can then contaminate the food.

Tips to keep food safe:

  • Keep food cold. Food poisoning bacteria need certain conditions to multiply to numbers that can cause illness. Two things they need are warmth and time. Bacteria multiply best at room temperature. So keep food cold.
  • Make sure you wash EVERYTHING that touches raw meat, raw chicken and raw unwashed vegetables before you use it to touch anything else.
  • This means after touching raw meat chicken and vegetables you must - wash your hands, wash boards the food was on and wash utensils that touched the food
  • Use different utensils and boards for raw meats and raw vegetables and ready to eat foods. You may consider using different coloured chopping boards for different foods. Use whatever works for you to help keep foods separated.
  • Make sure that any raw meat is wrapped and placed in a container so that raw juices don't drip onto other foods.
  • In the fridge, cover and store foods so the "raw" foods are at the bottom of the fridge and the "ready-to-eat" foods are at the top. For example
  • Top shelf: Ready-to-eat foods e.g. packaged ham, cooked chicken etc
  • Second shelf: Dairy foods and eggs e.g. cheese, yoghurt etc
  • Third shelf: Raw fruits and vegetables
  • Bottom shelf: Raw meats. If raw meat is stored above ready to eat foods in the fridge, it may drip bacteria onto it.
  • Care for foods - some lunch box foods need to be prepared with extra care.
  • Clean hands and utensils - the key to safe lunch box food.

For more information